PART 2 TIGER SCHOOL – Nursery Days


By Julian Matthews

Newly born Bengal tiger cubs whose eyes have not yet open (c) Alamy picture library

Newly born Bengal tiger cubs whose eyes have not yet open (c) Alamy picture library

A wild tigress give birth to her cubs, in a den she would call ‘home’, a suitably dry place she will have carefully chosen prior to labour, a hidden cave or thick overgrowth, where she can feel secure and comfortable, and feels she can protect her cubs from danger.

Mothers usually bare a litter, between 1 and 5 cubs, but more often its 2 to 4. Cubs are born blind and helpless, balls of cute fur, but already their distinctive stripes are laid down, visible when they start to shed their baby fur soon after birth.

For the first three months cubs are kept well-hidden in caves or dens and rarely left alone except when their mothers must hunt food for themselves. During this time the cubs are nursed wholly on their mother’s milk. From two months onwards, meat will also be on the menu. Fathers at this time will oversee their family, keeping predators away, but have little to do except providing invaluable protection to his female and her cubs.

Weaning is a gradual process which sees the tigress slowly reduces the time she feeds her cubs and by the time a litter is nearly three months old, nearly 1 kg of meat is eaten by each of the cubs every day.  At this time the youngsters really need to learn to drink water and need to accompany her on their first trips to water, to a kill or to change dens. She may decide to speed this process up by carrying them by the scruff of the neck in her mouth to the intended destination.

A mother tends her baby cub, now beginning to explore their surroundings under their mother's gaze. (c) Kedar Bhide

A mother tends her baby cub, now beginning to explore their surroundings under their mother’s gaze. (c) Kedar Bhide

But before they get to this stage, the cubs must learn to walk. As toddlers they are like humans, very clumsy with a tendency to fall over. Their muscles must be strengthened, however, and short walks with mum away from the lair enable them to do this.  In fact, she will move the cubs from the lair itself many times over whilst they are still dependent on her, both to throw off possible predators and to introduce the cubs to a variety of environments.

The first journey out. Just keeping up with their mother is a problem (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

The first journey out. Just keeping up with their mother is a problem (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

This is of course a very dangerous time for the cubs because the mother does have to leave them for short periods and the cubs are not, as originally believed, silent when she is away.  But she does not leave them often and has been known to abandon a kill if she senses or hears that the cubs are in danger.  Furthermore dad is sometimes waiting in the wings – keeping a watchful eye on them – so beware the leopard, hyena or wild dog that thinks he can sneak in for a quick meal.

Read part one – Nature and Nurture

Credits: Tiger Nation

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